Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Letter Sent

Dear Uncle Baloney,

I am writing you to offer you an opportunity.  I hope you will take a few minutes to hear me out.  

It has occurred to me that throughout the process of cleaning out, repairing, and remodeling Jim’s home you might have been too far removed to understand what took place.  This might seem like none of my business to you, but I personally spearheaded the movement to fix up the place, designed the new kitchen, and did plenty of physical labor there.  In fact, I took three months out of my life to move home and assist my dad with everything that needed to be done, since you did not come to help.  

My parents cleaned up the aftermath of the death, meaning the bodily fluids and tissues that had seeped onto the floor and closets.  They had to wear masks and move the soiled mattress out themselves.  They sorted personal belongings, paperwork, funeral arrangements, thank you cards, and cleaning.  I helped with a great deal of that, as well as arranging the car donation. I called all the other condos for sale down the street, and my dad and I looked at each of them to compare and get ideas for what needed to be done.

The actual remodel was not merely some paint job.  We covered the entire paneling in the basement with dry wall.  We built a new wall to cover the exposed yellow brick and the hideous bars on the stairway, we tore out all the carpeting and linoleum flooring, we ripped out all kitchen cabinets, we removed and threw away all the shades and blinds, we painted each wall, closet, door, and ceiling with two coats of primer first, and then the actual color because the it was so brown from years of neglect and cigarette smoke.  Each window frame needed several coats of paint.  We installed new lights in every single fixture, a new bathroom mirror, and new cabinets.  

The new kitchen cabinets took us to 6 different stores, each filling out a floor plan with which to determine the best price and arrangements.  I added a lazy Susan fixture and determined that we could install a microwave with exterior exhaust that hung above the stove.  My dad and I did this all our selves.  He managed far more labor after I left, including installation of the new floor, several plumbing and electrical changes, the addition of a garbage disposal, a new stairway rail, and all touch ups.  He did not bother paying for a single bit of installation or repair from any service.  He saved money on the project in every way because he shopped around until he found the best prices, and he already had some useful tools and leftover tile that he replaced the tile in the entire kitchen with himself. He also advertised and sold the condo himself, without seeking help from an agency. The condo could in no way shape or form be sold without all our labor.

You are the recipient of half the money from the condo sale, due entirely to the efforts of my dad and I.  One week after receiving the money, you are claiming financial duress and have not paid my dad the full amount you agreed on for the work we did.  It’s not that you don’t have the money, it’s that you don’t want to pay.  You were agreeable for the project supply costs, but when it comes to the value of our time and hard work, you are purposely snubbing us.   You have created a situation where we have to remind you that we exist, and that you directly benefited from our labor.  If you and Dad had to split the cost of biohazard cleaners, actual contractors, additional supplies, tools, and a real estate agent, the cost would be far greater than 10 grand.  

Therefore, I am presenting you with the opportunity to do the right thing here. You made a gentleman’s agreement and I expect you to honor it. My dad has asked me not to involve myself between the two of you, but it’s not good enough for me to hear that you intend to pay him at some point in time. You also may think this is not my place to intervene, but I am personally insulted by your disregard of everything we have done to resolve this crisis.  It feels like an invalidation of all our hard work, and I am heavily disappointed to realize that you clearly don’t care about us.  We dealt with everything in a timely and efficient manner.  My dad has little to no faith that you will follow through, and that is just sad.

If you and my dad continue to live on two different planets, that is fine by me. I am the lucky one in all of this because I got to spend quality time with my dad and learn about all his amazing skills and his kind, patient, generous spirit.  We didn’t have to do any of this, but we did because it was the right thing to do.  You received financial gains because of us, and you are lucky to have a brother which such vision, ability, and talent. I wish now that I bought you out completely and my dad and I could have owned the condo together, since we were the ones who brought it back from a disaster to a beautiful living space. I even thought of living there while I finish my masters, since I chose beautiful fresh colors for the walls and had further ideas for the bathrooms.  We determined it was easier for everyone involved to let it go, but now I wish I didn’t.  It doesn’t seem fair how things turned out.  Each project we did was photographed and documented, some of which were even emailed to you so you could see it and feel part of the renewal.  Would you have done the same?

It is my sincere hope that somewhere in all this there is some brotherly love.  In all my 33 years on this earth, I have never heard my dad speak an ill word of you.  Despite Jim’s extreme dislike of us, and what we found out to be a rather sizeable amount of inheritance that he stole from Dad years ago, Jim was fortunate to have us in his life.  Maybe someday you will feel the same.  

My dad spent an entire 24 hours at Stroger hospital with Jim when he had his congestive heart failure.  He wanted Jim to give him a key so we could check up on him and bring him some food.  He was truly upset when he found no one had nice things to say about Jim at the funeral, so we spent many days working on the condo only remembering the nice things about him.  My mom remembered how kind he was to dogs, letting them drink not out of specific containers, but out of his own good dishware.  She remembered calling him when there was an emergency and how he dropped everything to help.  I remembered that he called to tell me that I looked pretty on TV when I worked for PBS, and that he came to all my high school theatre performances, and my ballet recitals when I was little.  Dad told me many stories I hadn’t heard before about what Jim was like in high school and how they once went on a double date.  He told me about how he was jealous of Jim for a time when he got back from the military, because Jim had a real job and a real home when my dad had a stupid job at Jewel.    

I often beat myself up over the fact that two weeks before Jim died, I thought of sending him a book series I read, but I didn’t bother.  My first assumption was that he’d be interested in the books, and he’d appreciate that I thought of him. But I changed my mind, deciding that he probably wouldn’t enjoy something that I liked.  What a giant mistake.  I certainly learned that when it crosses your mind to do something for others you should always go for it, because it’s the right thing to do. Even a small act of kindness can go a long way, and you just never know what lurks around the corner.  

Instead of focusing on our differences and intolerances, we may find that we have some common ground and shared experiences to move forward with.  It’s amazing that after such a sad dark time in a sad dark condo, you can clear out the dust to find and cherish the fact that Jim had a new pair of shoes from good old Uncle Dan’s.  

I hope this letter finds you well and you are enjoying your new home in Larkspur.  I hope you will choose to have a positive outlook on me, and our experience working on Jim’s condo.  This was really important to me and I would do it all over again.  


Your niece,


p.s. In the spirit of following through on plans, I do also intend to place Jim’s ashes to rest in Ireland within the next year.  I suggest we make arrangements by January 6 to take care of this, as I think we all believe it’s what he would have wanted.

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